Monday, December 31, 2012
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
|Note: not my picture.|
Sunday, May 13, 2012
|Grape vines in winter.|
they were delicious
You know that it's cold in the albergue when you piss in the toilet and steam comes out.
We had a warm dinner, though. Ernesto made paella, which I record the process of which here for posterity:
One stick of butter and a minced onion -- grill in pan.
Add raw rice and a cup of wine. Mix.
Simmer meat and matching type of broth in pot with garlic.
Add broth and meat bit by bit to the rice and onions. Cook down and eat.
So, around the table we had (in no particular order) (and I include our nicknames):
1 American (me) (Superman)
4 Koreans (Warrior, Beauty, GPS, and Master)
1 Japanese (Samurai)
1 Brazilian (Joker)
1 Venezuelan (Beast)
1 Latvian (Mardas hasn't got a nickname yet)
And I definitely chose the coldest spot to spread my sleeping bag. Ego and my reputation as a Michigander are at stake here, after all. We'll see what ego thinks about that in the morning.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
|A paving stone with the camino symbol, just outside the monastery. This is one of the signs I followed on Day 6 of the camino.|
|A sign for the GR6, the trail I followed to Montserrat from Barcelona. I passed this sign on Day 4 of the camino.|
|A sign I found in the cable car parking lot for an alternate path along the camino. I did not take this path, but this is an excellent example of one of the ubiquitous yellow arrows.|
Friday, May 4, 2012
From Sadiq Alam:
the sufis say:
there are three ways to relate to the Divine:
one is prayer,
a step up from that is meditation,
and a step up from that is sohbet *.
* what sufi mystics mean by sohbet is difficult to translate in english. simply put, it means conversation of 'a totally different nature'. its conversation between friends of spirit and heart, its deep listening and transmission of heart as well. everything in the created cosmos are also in conversation always and those with attuned ears of the inner heart are able to listen to them.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Friday, April 20, 2012
Expenses, Day 26:
Churros con chocolate: 4.00
Phone albergue: 2.00
Provisions + Dinner + Dessert: 11.00
Trip Total: 595.60
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Sorrento is located near the end of a peninsula to the south of Napoli and Vesuvius. Like most cities in this part of the world, it was originally settled by the Phoenicians. The city sits on a sheer cliff above the water that is broken only by a narrow ravine coming down from the mountains. A road winds up through several switchbacks to the main plaza of the city, which stretches from one side of the ravine to the other. Underneath it has been filled with buildings, a mishmash of masonry from different centuries that results in a number of clubs below street level that are accessible on by narrow iron staircases clinging to the side of the cliff.
The city itself is an upscale collection of plastered buildings in various pastel shades. Sorrento has the appearance of a refuge for those who enjoy a bit of peace and quiet (and have to money to go find it). We had some of the best food of my life later that evening . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The easiest way to get around in this region is a narrow gauge railway called the Circumvesuviana. A variety of lines operate out of Napoli, and Sorrento is one of the three final stops. It was pouring rain when I left the ship, and by the time I found the station I was soaked through to the skin – never before have I missed my camino gear quite so much (it isn’t that my street shoes leak so much as they suck the water in and distribute it amongst my toes as equally as possible). But I didn’t know when I’d have another chance to see Pompeii, and figuring that I couldn’t really get much wetter anyway I decided to push on.
The Circumvesuviana is an Italian railroad in the three most important senses of the term – it’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s covered in graffiti. A luxury travel experience it was not, but two euros and ten cents bought me a plastic bucket seat to Pompeii that got there a lot faster than any bus would have. The tunnels and bridges seemed to be competing with one another to see who could occupy the greatest amount of trackage. The terrain was so rough that one station was located literally in midair, on an arched bridge high over a valley floor, while another was located midway through a tunnel like a subway. We sped through it all – groves of orange trees with their black tarpaulins dripping in the rain, old castles built of red brick, and churches of pale stucco with laundry hanging to dry under corrugated awnings.
The station for the Pompeii ruins (Pompeii Scavi, the modern city is spelled with only one “i”) left me practically on the doorstep of the archaeological site. The modern city surrounds the ruins, but as nearly the entire Roman city is still intact the ruins are so large as to make one forget that there are real buildings with real people living in them only a short distance away. After renting an audioguide (free admission due to national culture week!) I made my way past the suburban bathing complex (incomplete at the time of the eruption) and through the city walls into Pompeii.
Pompeii requires one to readjust their concept of visiting an archaeological site. In most cases, such a site may be a building or two, or a city block, where three or four layers of masonry are all that’s left of the various buildings (which have then been built over time and time again in the two thousand years since). Usually I’m left squinting at the displays, looking back and forth between the ruins and the sketches trying to figure out just exactly which part of the fishery I’m standing in. Barcelona has a site much like this near the old cathedral – underground, a block of the old roman city has been unearthed, but as the different centuries are all muddled together the foundation of a church may also be the corner of a bakery, built from the reused materials of the first city wall. It can be a bit like seeing in four dimensions at once.
Pompeii is not at all like that. When I stepped through the gate, I found myself on a street, lined on either side with buildings, stretching out towards the forum. There was a sidewalk on both sides, and places where pedestrians could cross without going all the way down into the street by way of huge stepping stones (the gaps between them allowed chariots to pass through). The tops of most of the buildings were missing, of course, as the pyroclastic flow had swept them away, but in some of the lower parts of the city the buildings had intact second stories as well.
And there is no prescribed path that visitors must follow – the whole city is there, just waiting to be explored. I found myself free to wander as I wanted, and that’s what I did – down side streets, through the back entrances of homes, and around interior gardens (the city was so well preserved that plaster casts were taken of the petrified plant roots to determine what types of trees and shrubs had been used, and in many cases Pompeii has been replanted with the modern equivalents). Most buildings were brick or stone, covered in plaster that was then decorated. Bits and pieces of paintings have survived – a line of red trim, a plaster cornice. One villa, the home of a wine merchant, was filled with huge clay jars used to store his product (the vineyard behind it has been replanted and produces a wine known today as Villa del Misterioso).
The baths were particularly notable. Arranged around a central park, there were separate facilities for men and women on either side of a set of furnaces. The changing rooms had high barrel vaults, covered in plaster and decorated with the images of weapons, gods, and nature, all in relief set into octagonal panels (and still legible after two thousand years!). The Roman baths consisted of three different rooms – a frigidarium, with cold water; a tepidarium, with lukewarm water and a caledarium, with the hottest water. The latter two received heat from the furnaces via a series of under floor channels, made visible now in the ruins. Hot gasses from the fires passed through these channels under the floor, warming the water and the air above it. It’s a clever arrangement, really, much like the in-floor heating that is becoming popular in modern architecture.
The baths also had mostly intact roofing, meaning that the more delicate internal features had remained intact (particularly on the women’s side). The floors of the baths were covered in diamond patterned mosaics, laid in grout over the larger flat stones that made up the false floor. One marble basin in particular looked like it was brand new – the partially intact plaster ceiling still had a pattern of the stars painted on it.
The Roman equivalents of fast food restaurants were visible along the street, too. These were storefronts, usually on the corner, with a counter of garish stones and a series of small hollows where food was cooked. Fountains were usually nearby, as well, some of them repaired (with modern, non-leaded pipes) for tourists to drink from.
The amphitheater and sports grounds were interesting as well for the usual collection of two thousand year old graffiti (that I was first introduced to at the Colosseum in Rome). Pictures of ships, puzzle games scratched into the rock, curses directed to the politicians of the day . . . some things really do not change very much from one generation to the next.
In summary, Pompeii is stunning not just because of its size, but because of the uniformity of the time period that it captures. It is incredibly rare that we get more than the smallest snapshot of a day in the life of a human being from two thousand years ago, while Pompeii may be a snapshot of a very BAD day, it remains one of the most compelling examples of an abstract history made concrete that I have ever visited.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Expenses, Day 24
Albergue Municipal Estrella: 7.00
Trip Total: 528.16
Day 25, December 19th, 2011
Expenses, Day 25
Fruit, Vegetables, Chocolate: 3.25
Café con Leche: 1.10
Dinner, Provisions: 7.14
Yesterday was a hard day for only 20 kilometers. I had been up late the night before with Jay (British pilgrim, hippie, lives in converted church, makes jewelry out of bits of meteorities, 51 years old) and Ernesto (Venezuelan, recently divorced and changed jobs, wore jeans on the camino in winter (not a good idea), 56 years old) and didn’t get enough sleep. Also, I pulled something in my left shin the day before that on the way into Puente la Reina . . . I should know better than to try 31 kilometers in the rain and slippery mud. I took a couple bad falls, any one of them could have been the one to hurt my leg . . . and so yesterday was a tough day.
Today was better. The weather was better, and so was the leg. I slept about thirteen hours straight last night, which helped my body heal a little. I think that it should be okay by tomorrow. This is proof that somebody can be dumb no matter how many kilometers they’ve walked.
I told Jay and Ernesto my story about the mountain and victory over fear, and Ernesto said something interesting. “You’ve learned something about yourself . . . you’re not afraid to die.”
Hmm. I tried that out, saying it out loud to myself while walking the next day. “I am not afraid to die.” It isn’t quite the truth; I am afraid of death, and I am in no hurry to get there. But what is true is that when it comes to something I believe in (the camino, in this case, even though I don’t know why I believe in it) I will act in the face of the fear of death. Maybe that’s the same thing.
I feel good. It feels strong and powerful to say “I am not afraid of death,” and feel some kernel of truth resonate deep in my gut.
Because the threat of death was real there for a few moments, if extremely unlikely. My survival depended on two things: my ability to keep walking, and the weather staying clear. If I had broken an ankle and it had starting raining . . . who knows when anyone else would have come along. It was so, so dumb to set out across the mountains in the middle of winter with no food! I’m not gonna do that again.
Jean-Luc has set out for Barcelona in my tracks, doing the same path that I’ve just completed in reverse. He has a tent and a kitchen; I gave him my guidebook. He is looking for peace and solitude; I think he will find the latter, at least! I hope he has better luck than I did; he is a beautiful spirit and I wish him the best. It’s too bad that I didn’t get to walk with him further.
We are definitely in Basque country now – that’s what the strange language is with all the Ks and Zs (it’s called Euskara). There is lots of “Free the Basque Country!” and “Peregrino – you are not in Spain!” graffiti. Madrid probably disagrees with that second statement.
It’s Ursula’s 70th birthday today. She’s a retired schoolteacher from Germany and speaks fluent Spanish, English, German, and is working on her Italian. This is her fourth camino – the woman can walk me into the ground. It’s all like Jay says: “Tread lightly upon the Earth.” I’ve spent the past two days walking on a hurt leg, trying to just listen to the work my feet are doing . . . not trying to control it, just listening. The more I listen, the more I “tread lightly,” and the more I find my own stride. That’s the secret, I think, not strength or fitness. Technique.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
But the ship is still afloat; we're docked now in Civitavecchia.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
When I see your face, the stones start spinning!
You appear, all studying wanders.
I lose my place.
Water turns pearly.
Fire dies down and doesn't destroy.
In your presence I don't want what I thought
I wanted, those three little hanging lamps.
Inside your face the ancient manuscripts
seem like rusty mirrors.
You breathe; new shapes appear,
and the music of a desire as widespread
as Spring begins to move
like a great wagon.
Some of us walking alongside
Come to the orchard in Spring.
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
in the pomegranate flowers.
If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Day 23, December 17th, 2011
Mom would be so proud of me right now.
I arrived in the albergue in Puente la Reina at about 5pm after a 31km walk through rain, snow and sleet. It was like the Pyrenees were taking wet shits all over us. Patrick made it, too, I saw him as the brother was walking me over to the albergue.
Located at the confluence of the Caminos Aragones and Frances, Puente la Reina is a hub of pilgrim activity. The first two buildings I saw were private albergues. I'm in a different one, though, with nine other pilgrims. Nine! When the brother took me to the albergue (I arrived late and it was locked), I was almost totally overwhelmed by the sudden noise. The bunkroom was filled with people laughing and joking, wringing out wet clothing, making tea for each other, and bandaging themselves after conquering the Pyrenees. It smelled like wet dog. Mom would be proud because I cooked dinner for everyone.
Dinner was an interesting affair. The albergue here, run by the church, has a kitchen, and I volunteered to go searching for food. Jean Luc and Wanwoo came with me, two fellow pilgrims and new friends that I had just made in the albergue. A strange trio we made, speaking just enough English to communicate with each other and just enough Spanish to communicate with the locals.
Many stores were closed. Finally we found a artisan bakery that was open, where we purchased several large bags of pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, cheese, bread, and a big bar of almond choclate to split amongst the ten of us. The owner was very patient with our indecision and fairly terrible Spanish, even though she was about to close up – it would have been a hungry night if she hadn't!
Back in the albergue, I began cooking. There was a little bit of milk and Spanish chocolate, so I boiled the milk and made chocolate to tide everyone over while the water for the pasta boiled. Unfortunately, the electric stovetop was being a bit wonky and finally quit altogether before the water was boiling. We tried everything we could think of to get it working again, short of actually disconnecting it from the wiring of the building and reconnecting it (the substantial risk of fatal electrocution finally dissuaded me – Spain is not known for having talented electricians, and this albergue was no exception). It was beginning to look like a wet, cold day was going to be followed with a hungry night . . . finally the other pilgrims told me to go ask Jean Luc for help.
Jean Luc is a young man from France, about my age, who has been walking a considerable distance. He's been camping most of it in the wild, like Marten (the first pilgrim I met, from Essen), hence his massive pack (it has a tent and a kitchen in it, two things I've sorely missed). He's a quiet, thoughtful individual, and while I didn't know exactly what he was going to do to fix the stove (and save our dinner!) I followed the advice of the other pilgrims.
He was sitting on his bunk, facing away from me, when I entered the bedroom. It took a few tries to get his attention – I realized exactly too late that he had been practicing a form of Indian meditation known as Vipannasa and that I had just interrupted it. After a few profuse apologies (which he smiled and brushed off) I explained the situation to him. Jean Luc and I returned to the kitchen, where he took one look at the stove top and touched the power button just as we had done a hundred times.. It flashed back to life in an instant. Dinner was delicious.
I figured out later that the stove could get confused by too many quick inputs on the little touchscreen at the front, and that when it did it would lock up until the burners cooled and then reset itself. That's why it worked when Jean Luc tried it – they'd cooled sufficiently to reset. So it wasn't a miracle, exactly . . .
He and I fell to talking later. We had both journeyed through fairly remote areas to get here, and were both amazed and slightly overwhelmed by the number of pilgrims present in the albergue that night. He liked my stories of Catalunya and Aragon, and asked if he could borrow my guidebook for the Camino Catalan. I ripped out the page with the remaining distances to Santiago and gave it to him – it wasn't like I was going to need it again any time soon, after all.
Note: I never saw Jean Luc again. I found out later from the others that he took my guidebook and set out towards Barcelona, backwards along the path I had just taken. The Camino Frances was too crowded for him. I hope he made it.
So many stories! So many soulful individuals.
Tomorrow, I tread softly. Today is a day of harmony with the trail. I have been fighting impatience so much since my victory over San Juan de la Pena. I have been gaining strength and power; time to gain wisdom.
Expenses, Day 23
Trip Total: 511.16
Monday, April 9, 2012
Trip Total: 502.66
Thank goodness that the Monreal albergue is open!
Itwas cloudy today, then rainy, then rainy and windy. This is the first day of rain in 22 days. I'm fine with rain, but rain and wind and cold are pretty unpleasant together. There was some sleet as well.
The camino is stumbling back to the Albergue with Patrick at 9pm after an enormous Menu del Peregrino, a little drunk and knowing that you have 31km to go the next day. His wife likes that he goes on camino in the winter, because the Spanish whorehouses are closed in winter. Could this get any more Canterbury tales?
Carved into the entrance to a graveyard: “Yo que fui, lo que tu eres. Tu seras, lo que yo soi.” "I was what you are. You'll be what I am."
Friday, April 6, 2012
Expenses, Day 21
Resupply (bread, OJ, chorizo): 4.40
Pensión Peregrino: 20.00
Resupply (bread, pastry): 3.30
Café con leche: 1.10
Trip Total: 475.26
Today was a beautiful day for traveling (but aren’t they all?). I spent most of the morning climbing out of the ghost town of Ruesta (pop. = us) along the ridge through logging country. I crested the ridge around 11am and descended through scrub and finally farmland to Sangüesa. I arrived around 3 or 4 in the afternoon – it was a short day of only 22.4km. 25km tomorrow and 30km to Puente la Reina the day after (note: there are two Puente la Reinas on the Camino Aragonés). I crossed the border from Aragón to Navarra as well today.
Sangüesa is bilingual, but I can’t figure out what the other language is. It looks like a Slavic language, with lots of z’s all over the place (note: I discovered later that it is Euskara, the native Basque language. More on this later).
I was fighting off a bit of impatience to be done with the camino today. If I had started from St. Jean Pied-de-Port (a common starting point for the modern pilgrim, located only a few days away in France) I would be only a week away from Santiago right now. With my victory a few days ago on the Camino Catalán, it is tempting to think that I’ve gotten what I need here and that it is time to move on . . . part of me hopes not. I hope that there is more here for me. Keep teaching, camino . . . although one more easy day might be okay before the lessons start again.
And I haven’t reached Santiago. Where I might’ve started doesn’t matter; gotta keep going.
This morning I came to the conclusion that The Empire Strikes Back has the best soundtrack ever written, and that you could listen to just the music and understand the entire plot because of how strongly each character is written into the music. Luke’s theme, Han and Leia, the addition to the Imperial March that happens when the emperor enters . . . etc.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Expenses, Day 20:
Albergue in Ruesta (Dinner, Bed, Breakfast tomorrow): 24.00
Trip Total: 445.59
Today was my first full day on the Camino Aragonés.
The albergue last night was beautiful. Arrés is a tiny fortress town built on the strategic point of a pass through the mountains to the south. The albergue is a reclaimed building that used to be in ruins – I saw before/after pictures on the wall. The walls were standing but the rest was a ruin. That seems to be typical of Rómanesque architecture; floors and roofs are of fragile wood, while the walls are of thick, thick stone.
It is three stories inside. The back entrance is on the ground floor, along with the bathrooms. This floor is smaller than the others, as the raw stone of the mountainside protrudes into the space (creating an odd situation where the toilet and shower cubicles has windows looking onto raw stone). The second floor has two bedrooms, while the third has a kitchen and a living room (the main entrance is on the balcony between the second and third floors). There's also an attic above the stairwell with four more mattresses – 20 beds in all, maybe.
The other pilgrim is a Spaniard, 51 years old, and not actually grumpy. There's a third pilgrim, as well, a French doctor who is 56 and stayed last night in the hotel attached to the bar. We made an odd trio, drinking calimoxto and tossing bits of Spanish, French, and English back and forth.
On the trail yesterday before Arrés I came upon a strange sight. I was following the trail through some woods when I came upon a stony meadow. The stones had been moved off the path, though, and there were a couple small cairns on either side of the path. I climbed a small rise to see that the entire field of stones had been stacked by pilgrims into small cairns. There were hundreds – thousands of them! Some had messages carved or painted on them; others had small gifts or charms wound around the rocks. I left a small pile of my own, made from a few loose rocks nearby.
Since then I've been seeing little cairns with some regularity. There was an old ruined hermitage that I passed in a field; seeing what I though was graffiti, I took a look inside. It wasn't graffiti – it was one of thousands of pilgrim names scratched into the remaining plaster. On the alter was a pile of stones in the shape of a heart. In other places were a small fire pit and a cross made of loose rock, as well as a tin labeled (ironically, I think) “donativo” (or donations, the typical sign in albergues above the box where one pays). I'd like to think that the monks who used to live here would appreciate that the pilgrims are using the ruins for shelter.
Speaking of rocks, I spent much of today walking among a very strange stone. It is gray, very soft, and erodes in small flakes. You can scrape pieces off of boulders just by running your hand along the face – a shower of chips about an inch long and an eighth of an inch thick will follow your fingers. It is very soft to walk on and eventually becomes sticky gray mud.
No plants grow on this rock, but I believe that it is because the roots of any sprouting seeds dislodge the very rock that they try to latch on to, rather than because of any toxicity of the rock itself (although I could be wrong). The strange erosion properties mean that the soft gray rock forms hillsides of sensuous curves, like Picasso painting a voluptuous woman.
Taking a break, I climbed one of the little hills. The way the stone breaks into such small chunks means that it tends to recreate larger landscapes in miniature. I felt like a giant steeping over valleys and rivers . . .
Sometimes a vein of more normal red rock runs through the gray stone. As it erodes, it leaves red “boulders” that fall down the small valleys. It's a whole geological cycle in miniature.
As I passed Artieda, I noticed a change in the landscape. The path followed a narrow green tunnel, sunk beneath the fallow fields and between stone walls that were being torn apart by the invading undergrowth. It was beautiful, but very empty. Not creepy, like before, as this land felt like it was supposed to be empty, but I didn't know why.
Coming in to Ruesta, I saw the remains of an old tower. Nothing special about that – there are lots of ruined towers in Spain, after all. There were other ruined buildings around it, too, and the road had been in an unusual state of disrepair for quite some time (when I could find it all, that is). There were quite a lot of ruined buildings, and as the cracked asphalt led me into town I realized that some of them were much more recent than the keep. Maybe even 20th century . . . what had happened here?
There were a few buildings that showed signs of very recent renovation. These belong to the albergue, a massive affair with 100 beds. It is the only inhabited building in town.
After asking around a little bit, I found out that this whole area was flooded with the construction of a dam. After years, they decommissioned it, and people returned to the area only to find that soil was no longer good for farming. This is why Ruesta is a ghost town, with only an albergue remaining. It is weird to think that this was all underwater at one point.
I love these Spanish soap operas. No one does them as well as the Spanish. They're all set in different time periods – the one on right now is set during the wars with Napolean. Fantastic.
There is a great picture here of people hiking in to the ruins of the city after the dam has been decommissioned. It's like they've found a ruined city on a forgotten planet, or the lost island of Atlantis.